Monthly Archives: April 2015

Hairy Pigs and Meerkats

SWMBO decided that a trip down memory lane and a visit to the Beale Park Wildlife establishment was called for, and in the absence of hundreds of peacocks, a pleasant time was had by all (Biggles remaining on guard, asleep, on the boat). While Fran was trying to work out which bird was the Norwegian Blue…

First Mate has the train to herselfWonder which one's the Norwegian  Blue...

… the local mallards had formed an escape committee, although the brightly coloured occupants of the prison  seemed unimpressed.

The escape committee. Where's Steve McQueen?Bright birds

The Egyptian Geese have decided to recruit one of their family as a Charity Mugger who demanded funds for the bird-food slot machine with extreme prejudice: could teach the Canal and River Trust chuggers a thing or two!

Walk this way, Madam, and open your purse...... or I'll peck your knee caps. 

Our many trips north of Hadrian’s Wall meant that Hairy Coos were hardly a novelty, but we’d never come across their porcine relatives before. They were really quite sweet, and are often kept as pets in New Zealand, apparently.

Hairy Pigs 1Hairy Pigs 2

And Meerkats really do stand upright, keeping guard.

 They really do stand upright!And Aleksander is on guard duty...

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21 Swan Salute

Pottering around on the water, it’s easy to get blasé about all the wildlife, even in towns. But things still never fail to surprise. At Abingdon, on sliding back the roof hatch, within that small bit of visible sky, there were overflying – all at once, at different heights – a Red Kite, a Common Tern, a Heron, a Black-Headed Gull and a Wood Pigeon.

Moored at Wallingford, we had low passes by Kingfishers on several occasions, and at one point there were 7 Red Kites performing formation aerobatics as though practicing for the Farnborough Air Show. Didn’t have the heart to tell them that it’s Paris’ turn this year, and anyway the Red Arrows and the Patrouille de France have rather sown up that market.

When Greylag Geese pass closely on short finals with full flaps down, you can hear quite odd loud vibrations from the wing trailing edges – sounds like someone playing a kazoo or comb and paper. Quite different from the whooshing noises from swans in transition from ground to air or vice-versa.

On the subject of swans, they seem to have been taking lessons from London Transport: hadn’t seen one for days, then near in open country near Goring we came across 21 milling around quietly in the middle of the river: they politely saluted and moved apart to let us through. Later, a single swan – probably related to the nutter near Newbury – passed the boat on short finals to the river just ahead of the boat, with a maximum wing-tip clearance from Fran’s head of three inches. Any closer and he’d have had her sunglasses off her head. What is it with swans and her?

And foreigners abound. Apart from Canada Geese (way too many these days) we’ve seen Egyptian Geese (including one pair with five goslings), Mandarin Ducks, and this chap at Wallingford.

Muscovy Duck, it would seem.

He’s seemingly a Muscovy Duck from Central/South America, and was there last October, so he’s obviously made his peace with the locals.

Heading for Reading

With a promise of some engineering attention from Piper Boats at the end of the week, it was time to set sail for the delights of Reading. When we left Abingdon, we had spotted the steam barge Magic Dragon moored up at the chandlery, and it reminded us of some nice, cat-friendly moorings at Beale Park, where we spotted her last September, so headed off for there.

Stopping in Goring/Streatley for lunch, the size of the weir provides a salutary reminder that the river is getting bigger and bigger. And as per our last visit the Goring Art Gallery had some works with folkie connections, in this instance Caroline Ritson, better known to us as a member of the ceilidh band The Geckoes and (long long ago) the infamous Jumpleads.

Goring LockThe Swan, StreatleyStreatley Common

The Captain pronounced satisfaction on our arrival at the Beale Park moorings.

Sir surveying the mooring pinsAnyone home?

The photogenic cottage in the woods across the river had clearly decided on a variation of the three china ducks flying up the living room wall.

In a Cottage, In a Wood...Three ducks

And as well as being a nice place to moor up, the Inland Waterways Association Festival at Beale Park some years ago was the first time we came across Piper Boats and their Dutch Barges, while Fran has fond memories of childhood visits to the wildlife park with her grandparents. Mind you, back then they had hundreds of peacocks, which wouldn’t have exactly made for a quiet mooring spot.

Moo-ring Fees

On the canal system, you can moor for free on the towpath side for up to 14 days unless there are signs to the contrary (such as 48 hour limits near shops etc.). On the river, there’s no official towpath, and the ability to moor up – or not – is entirely down to the individual landowner, who may or may not charge. Having forgotten that, we moored up at Wallingford on the town side of the bridge, and were somewhat surprised to be rudely awakened at OMG o’clock by a cheery chappy banging on the boat and shouting “Gooood Morning, Mooring Fees please”. We’d moored on the other side of the river before without any such disturbance, but our cheery chappy said “This side’s Wallingford Town Council managed, the other side’s the District Council, and they only collect the fee in the summer when the swimming pool is open”. The Captain was severely dischuffed and set off determinedly to complain to someone.

Now where's that pesky parking attendant...... time to see him off.

We moved to the other side for our second night…

Even when the mooring is basically a cow-field like Lechlade Public Moorings you can get asked for a mooring fee. And even way out in the country, you can still get hassled…

Mooring fee please...

Idyllic Abingdon–(Tufted Ducks excepted)

An uneventful departure from Oxford, and a remarkably quiet  (traffic wise) cruise down towards Abingdon in rather dull weather. Song & Dance’s washing machine only works when plugged in to a shore line, and the dirty washing pile was showing signs of taking over the boat. We knew of electric services several days further down the river at Goring Lock, but really needed something before them, and launderettes never appeal. A chance conversation with an Abingdon based cruiser in Sandford Lock regarding the possibility of overnighting in Abingdon Marina elicited the reply “No chance, but there’s a hook-up at Abingdon Lock, even though it’s not listed: Richard (the lock keeper) will sort you out” and off they zoomed.

Having failed to contact the lock on the phone, when we arrived at Abingdon Lock, Frank the volunteer came straight over to us and said “Are you the boat wanting overnight mooring with a hook-up?”  before directing us to a spot on the weir island. Perfick. And it was just like a lovely private garden, the other side from all the hurley-burley of the lock traffic. (There was a small notice saying you could camp there, but there were no takers). As a bonus, a pleasant 15 minute walk through the woods and Abbey Gardens took you straight to a large Waitrose. What more could one ask for? Many thanks to Richard and Frank for the hospitality.

The weather was lovely and we sat in our “garden” in the warm sunshine while the washing machine worked overtime, watched the passing traffic – proper job gongoozlers – and ended up staying another day. Also said hello to a passing David Piper boat of some vintage heading for Liverpool, and still going strong.

Abingdon LockOne of David Piper's boatsMeet the family

Duckling and gosling production seems to be building up fast, although we haven’t spotted any cygnets yet. On the way to Waitrose a male and female mallard and a solitary tufted duck were quietly paddling and dabbling around together in one of the overgrown back-waters, when a  moorhen (usually a pretty low key bird) steamed out of the undergrowth at flank speed and, with extreme prejudice, saw the tufty off the premises. Never seen a moorhen behave like that before. Wonder he had against tufted ducks.

For Oxford and St. George

Although we’d spent the whole weekend in Oxford (on music and morris dancing matters) and parked by the station for a reshuffling run home, we hadn’t actually done anything touristy, and St. George’s day promised wall-to-wall warm sunshine, so a day’s gentle perambulation around some of the landmarks was called for.

Magdalen Tower from Magdalen BridgeRiver Cherwell from Magdalen BridgeTrainee CSIs? Bug counters?

Magdalen Tower, the River Cherwell and strange goings-on from Magdalen Bridge.

Punt ParkPunt jam

Punt park and punt jam. (Actually there were about six punts fully occupied by young people shouting in a non-English language of some kind, going all in different directions and causing complete chaos. The joys of youth…)

Maths post-grad working on PhD thesis?DSCF1722

A couple of dreaming spires (well, one spire and one tower).

Corpus Christi CollegeChristchurch Meadows

Corpus Christi College and Christchurch College Meadows.

Fran's new diet

Fran trying out her new diet: a latte and a caramel and chocolate oozing cookie.

Hungry? Us?

Quietly whiling away the morning while the ship’s quarter-master was out catching trains and moving things between Cropredy Marina, boat and home, there was a gentle but persistent tapping noise from somewhere. Opening the side hatch revealed Mr & Mrs Mallard, paddling gently in the river flow to stay stationary by the hatch. I’m still not sure if they were politely asking if the food bank was opening any time soon or trying to get Biggles to subscribe to The Watchtower.

We were moored on East Street just down stream from Osney Bridge, opposite a fairly run down Victorian brick-built factory, and things had been expectedly quiet from the wildlife point of view; apart from the two cold-callers, a grey wagtail, two feral pigeons and a dog being walked there was nothing anywhere in sight. So I broke out the dwindling supply of duck food to treat Mr and Mrs M, who dug in thankfully while making absolutely no noise or fuss whatsoever.

Within 45 seconds, ten more young male mallards, three large greylag geese and a black-headed gull had appeared from nowhere, and were swarming noisily around noisily demanding food with menaces.

Have they got over-the-horizon radar, or what?